Wednesday, 27 June 2012

St Brynach's Church

Situated deep within the countryside which surrounds Cowbridge and Llanblethlian lies the 'ancient and venerable' medieval church of St Brynach's. A network of arable fields and gently sloping pasture farmland enclose St Brynach's church keeping it hidden from the modern world with the only access through this sea of green coming via a narrow sunken lane which meanders through the landscape leading directly down to St Brynach's from the New Cross Inn at Llanblethlian. Even in the year 2012 because of its isolated location St Brynach's church is without electricity, heating or lighting hence lending itself to the atmosphere of yesteryear. 

The sunken lane which leads down to St Brynach’s from Llanblethlian was once an old road which although in the twenty first century is seldom used, would have been used as a general highway in the preceding centuries providing a conduit for people travelling between parishes and access to the many fields which surround St Brynach’s church. This ancient trackway was in use until the early twentieth century when it was superseded by larger modern tarmacked roads capable of holding heavy traffic and is now an obsolete reminder of a bygone age where the only noise, apart from the sounds of nature, would have been the gentle clopping of hooves and the trundle of carts at around harvest time. The lane now abruptly terminates next to the modern A48. 

                              (St Brynach's church)

The earliest recorded date ascribed to St Brynach’s comes from the Norwich taxation of 1254 although it is likely that an earlier building once occupied the site. St Brynach’s church, also formerly referred to as Llanvrynach, consists of a nave, chancel, porch and a tower with an outshot stair turret, however much of St Brynach’s was subject to extensive rebuilding during the fifteenth century including a replacement roof on the nave which survives as a type particular to the Vale of Glamorgan. Much of the nave itself can also be dated to this period of alteration making it difficult to identify earlier phases of construction, although a few examples of the architectural fabric suggest a potentially earlier date such as the chancel arch which can be dated in parts to the late-thirteenth century.

Two of the most prominent features of St Brynach’s church, namely the tower and the porch, despite looking medieval, date from the sixteenth century, although the interior door to the porch is earlier and dates from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The adjacent bell tower is accessible by a set of stone spiral stairs within the outshot stair turret where a solitary bell dating to 1430 greets the visitor

(The east-end of the chancel has an exposed medieval wall painting, no-doubt one of many in this church that was covered - up during the Reformation.)

There is a curious story to our first visit to St Brynach's church which was in 2004. Mark relates the story.

Being the first time we had visited this church we were keen to explore; it was a fine summer's evening and there was no-one at the church but ourselves. We had been at the church for around fifteen minutes, Jonathan was inspecting the back of the church and I had decided to sit on the base of the cross opposite the main entrance when I had the curious feeling that I was being watched. I turned my head and apprehended a figure 90 degrees to my right.  Someone was stood at the entrance to the church yard and was gazing in my direction.  I was quite surprised to see another person here not only because the place is so remote but also because we had not seen anyone else on our way down; there was certainly no-body else here during our visit.

I looked at this figure for no longer than two seconds and continued with my sojourn. This figure was wearing what I took to be either a purple dress or a long flowing garment with either a hat or hood of the same colour; this did actually strike me at the time as being very unusual attire for someone to be wearing in the middle of the countryside on a warm summer's evening, but because of the attire I concluded that the figure was female and was wearing some type of formal dress. I assumed that there was due to be some sort of ceremony at the church, a wedding perhaps, although once again I did think that this circumstance would have been unusual due to the fact that the time was around eight in evening and that the church is seldom used and there is barely enough space for one car to park. 

After around twenty seconds I decided to go over and have a chat with this person and make sure that if there was an event due to happen that we wouldn't get in the way. but the figure had gone.  As I opened the gate I fully expected to see this person walking up the old sunken lane but both sides of the lane were empty!  I was very surprised by this but then I thought that this person must have crossed the old stone coffin stile which leads into the field opposite the church gate. I hopped over the stile once again fully expecting to see the figure I had seen at the church gate, nothing however but a small herd of cows nonchalantly eating grass greeted me.  I was both flummoxed and intrigued as to how this person could have evaded me so quickly. There was no possibility that any person could have disappeared so swiftly as there was quite simply no where they could have gone without being seen. My curiosity was now aroused. 

A second, albeit remote, possibility which struck me was that, even though the nearest houses are some distance away, this person was perhaps a local out walking their dog, although as stated earlier we saw no one else on our way down and this seemed unlikely but I made one final attempt to see if this person had walked up the old lane by running up it as fast as I could, but there was no one there.

 (The gate where the figure in purple was seen. The stile leading into the field opposite can be seen in the background)                           

It was only when all logic was exhausted that the thought that I might have unwittingly seen some sort of ghost or apparition occurred to me. I was alone in this isolated country lane on a beautiful Summer's evening with nothing but the sound of birds tweeting and a few butterflies fluttering around me; seeing an apparition was the last thing I was expecting.  Jonathan was still in the church yard as I had only been gone a few minutes.  I related to him the tale and we both agreed that it added an extra degree of interest to our visit.

I was however annoyed with myself for not looking longer as I only glanced at the figure for a few seconds. As I previously stated this figure was wearing something purple which covered most of its body, including its head which I took to either be a garment with a hood, or a hat and because of this assumed it to be female, but who knows. Who or what did I see on that warm Summers evening back in 2004? 

It is interesting to note that the site of St Brynach's church is an ancient one as in addition to being the location of the said medieval church, excavations have revealed that a Romano-British settlement once existed within the near vicinity with its archaeology overlapping into the church yard. In addition, St Brynach's church yard is also the site of a deserted medieval village. 

It would be interesting to see if anyone else has had a similar experience at St Brynach's.

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